Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is Assisted Suicide a Constitutional Right?

That's the question Montana's State Supreme Court will take up on Wednesday. 

It stems from the case of Robert Baxter, a 76-year-old retired trucker who died of lymphocytic leukemia. Baxter, while still alive, sought the right to die, and took his battle to the Montana court system. A lower court ruled in his favor, on the very day he died. The State of Montana appealed the decision and it has now reached the state's Supreme Court. 

According to the New York Times:
"The legal foundation for both sides is a free-spirited, libertarian-tinctured State Constitution written in 1972 at the height of a privacy-rights movement that swept through this part of the West in the aftermath of the 1960s. Echoes of a righteous era are reflected in language about keeping government at bay and maintaining individual autonomy and dignity."

It seems now, not only is the right to die being advocated for from some of the more liberally minded states (Washington and Oregon), but now we're seeing a movement come out of a more conservative, individualistic state. 

And we're seeing some different arguments because of the unique nature of Montana. For one, since so many people live in near isolation, opponents worry that the sick will be pushed into the law out of a lack of access to proper healthcare. Montana also already has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, and some worry about enacting such a law in an area that already has problems with suicide. 

On the flip side, proponents state the need for individualism and autonomy in decision making—the rights of the individual to direct his or her own fate. 

This will be interesting to watch. And if the court does approve the assisted suicide, it will be interesting to see what type of law they come up with, since this move has not stemmed from a carefully drawn out initiative, the way Washington's and Oregon's laws did. Will they essentially copy Oregon's law, like Washington state did, or will they do entirely their own thing, which seems more in the character of Montana. 


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Jessica Knapp said...

Thanks for the comment! I'll check out your link. Sounds like an interesting project for sure.

Funny, I was just watching Piper Laurie on one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Twin Peaks, earlier today. She's amazing!